May: Qatada appeal lodged too late
Home Secretary Theresa May has dismissed terror suspect Abu Qatada's latest bid to avoid deportation as a "delaying tactic".
His lawyers lodged an appeal with Europe's human rights judges, effectively blocking the Government's attempts to deport him to Jordan, just hours after he was sent back to jail.
But Mrs May insisted the radical cleric had already run out of time to appeal over the judges' original decision which was made three months ago.
Qatada's legal team claims that judges at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) were wrong when they ruled in January that he would not be at risk of torture if returned to Jordan.
The court's Grand Chamber will decide whether to hear his appeal "soon", but the radical cleric, once described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe, cannot be deported until the court has reached a decision.
Mrs May told the BBC: "This is a delaying tactic from Abu Qatada. It is a delaying tactic which he chose to use only after he had seen the strength of the Government's case in the Siac (Special Immigration Appeals Commission) court yesterday. The decision as to whether or not Abu Qatada remains in prison will be one that will be taken by the UK courts, if he chooses to apply for bail. Obviously, if he does, we will oppose that bail vigorously, as we did yesterday - we argued for his detention yesterday - and as we have done in the past."
Asked whether the Home Office may have got its timing wrong, Mrs May said: "I am sure that we got the deadline right, because you look at the treaty and what the treaty says is that it is three months from the date of the judgment."
A spokeswoman for the Strasbourg-based court said Qatada's appeal was lodged at 11pm local time (10pm BST) on Tuesday, but added: "We cannot comment on the view taken by the UK authorities about when the deadline expired."
Prime Minister David Cameron said he was determined that Qatada would be deported, no matter how long it took. "I am absolutely clear, the entire Government is clear, and frankly I think the country is clear, that this man has no right to be in our country. He is a threat to our security, he has absolutely no further call on our hospitality and he should be deported. That is what we are determined to achieve, no matter how difficult it is, no matter how long it may take," he said.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The Home Secretary needs to urgently come back to Parliament to tell the public what on earth has happened here. The Home Office are saying one thing, the European Court another. Why didn't they just agree the deadline in advance so there could be no opportunity for Abu Qatada or his lawyers to exploit? We need urgent clarification from the Home Secretary on whether she got the timing wrong and why checks were not made with the ECHR, whether Abu Qatada may now be released because of a Government mistake, and what is happening now to ensure this process is put back on track."